You didn’t need a crystal ball to see this one coming. On Monday, a week after the BATFE withdrew its plan to ban M855 as “armor-piercing ammunition,” U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) announced that he intends to introduce legislation to “extend the definition of armor-piercing ammunition to include all bullets that can pierce body armor and be used in handguns.”
The reason you didn’t need a crystal ball is that gun control supporters have been pushing this idea for years. In the 1980s, after NBC-TV did an attack piece on bullets invented for law enforcement officers to shoot through walls and doors, disingenuously calling them “Cop Killer Bullets,” gun control supporters seized upon the term and proposed legislation to ban any bullet that could penetrate a soft protective vest.
Fortunately, the Departments of Justice and Treasury, along with the NRA, opposed the “performance-based” approach to defining “armor-piercing ammunition,” because it would have banned virtually all center-fire rifle ammunition and some center-fire handgun ammunition. Therefore, in 1986, Congress instead adopted a “construction-based” approach, defining bullets as “armor-piercing ammunition” based upon the metals from which they are made.
In the 1990s, President Bill Clinton and then-Rep. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) pushed for a performance-based bullet ban within terrorism legislation. A study released by the BATFE in April 1997, however, concluded “existing laws are working, no additional legislation regarding such laws is necessary.”
Now, the BATFE’s recent attempt to ban M855 has inspired gun control supporters to take another shot at a near-total center-fire bullet ban, and in the case of Rep. Israel, to do so without knowing the first thing about the subject. Israel says his bill is necessary “[b]ecause of significant developments in bullet propellants, coatings and materials, such as Teflon.”
To which we have to ask: Seriously, Teflon? The substance used to coat skillets and 1970s-era all-steel handgun bullets invented for law enforcement officers, so the bullets wouldn’t scratch the rifling of the officers’ handgun barrels? Teflon, which has nothing to do with whether a bullet can penetrate a protective vest? Teflon (speaking of Clinton), the substance said to cover dishonest, misbehaving public officials who nevertheless skirt scrutiny and accountability again and again?
As we have previously noted, in the 38 years that the FBI has reported the caliber of handguns used to kill law enforcement officers, no such crime has been committed with a handgun capable of firing M855 or any other .223 or 5.56mm cartridge.
Rep. Israel is right about one thing, however. He says that the 1986 law that the BATFE tried to twist in order to ban M855 “is outdated.” Indeed, it is, but not in the way that Israel imagines. The law should be amended to narrow BATFE’s discretion to ban ammunition. It should be understood to cover only such bullets as are designed for the express purpose of penetrating protective vests when loaded into pistol-caliber cartridges and fired from handguns. It should further exempt all bullets that are primarily intended for any legitimate purpose, including self-defense.
Rest assured we'll keep readers apprised of any new developments. (Please see related story on federal legislation introduced to prevent the Obama Administration from banning ammunition.)